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Purses, Wallets, Gender Roles, and Me Being Slow On the Uptake

December 9, 2008
Mr. Glendower has been unsuccessful in buying his father a Christmas present. His father told his sister to relay that he did not want another jacket, shirt, or pair of boots this year. In the past, the Eddie Bauer catalog has been Mr. Glendower’s best friend when it comes to his father. He did give his father a bottle of Cool Water one year, but I don’t remember the verdict on that gift. It is all just the same money exchanging hands, because none of them give without getting, and everyone who gets gives equally. Nevertheless, the hunt is on, and this year it is for the perfect wallet. I would say billfold, but my daughter thinks billfold is the ugliest word she has ever heard in her life. She says it sounds as if it belongs in an old boring black and white movie. Whatever that means.

Supposedly, there is a science to having the perfect wallet; there is something to do with the direction of the fold, the number of the folds, the way it sits, slides into the pocket, the colour, the material and of course the size. When I was being shown all of this, I asked Mr. Glendower when did he get his first wallet. “Oh, long before middle school,” he offered. So, I am to understand that he was a veteran wallet carrier by the 7th grade. He went on to tell me how all the boys were carrying wallets by junior high. Well, not my brothers. At least not that I can remember. He had an explanation for their deficiency. See, if my brothers did not carry a wallet it was because they did not have any money. I asked him why would a boy in junior high need a wallet and he said, “for lunch money, and condoms of course.” Where in the world did he get a condom in junior high? His father gave it to him, that’s where. His father gave it to him so he had to keep it in his wallet just like his father told him to. And it was not a hush-hush affair between him and his father, he used this masculine possession against other boys, something others boys did as well to other boys, and that was to stand up against a wall behind a building somewhere, or in a rest room, or in some corner of the school yard and brag about the condom in his wallet. He admits now how absolutely ridiculous he and they were, because, he knows that most of those boys, including himself, did not have a clue. Clueless pubescent bravado always makes for a good laugh.

The summer between sixth and seventh grade I saved every penny for a purse. I had never own a purse before and didn’t really need one, but a lot of the girls in my school were wearing a pretty leather (or leather-like) purse that was shaped like a rectangle, standing on its short side, with two circles cut in the top for the handles. Thelma on Good Times had a purse just like it, and everyone knows that what Thelma wore was to be coveted. When I was telling the older girls across the street, way older as in high school and out of high school that I was going to buy a purse I got a few wink winks in the form of “Oh, Kitty is going to buy a purse,” accompanied with a big smile. Whatever that meant. I did get the purse right before school started and on the first day, this stupid-stupid boy Tommy Brown (what a horrible little twit, I hate him to this day, he antagonised me for years) mentioned my new purse with the same, wink wink that the older girls did. “So, you are carrying a purse this year.” I really thought the people around me were from another planet.

Why were so many people amused by me having a purse? It was really a mystery to me. But I can see now, thirty something years later, oh, I see now their meaning. Really. Is it that serious? What a monstrously gendered world we live in that the slightest little item carried by adolescents is marked with gender, buried in conditioning.

Just for the record, it would be a whole year and half later before I started menstruating. And that purse was stolen when my older sister wore it to work without my permission. Walking home one night from work she was mugged, —by a man (if he had a wallet or not, I could not say).

  1. Chris permalink
    December 9, 2008 4:24 pm

    Interesting take on wallets and purses. I never equated the wallet to the condom. I just carried pictures in mine during junior high and high school. As far as the purse, consider me slow because when you mentioned the “wink wink” over it, I ask myself, “Now why would someone need a purse to carry condoms” and then about two second laters the “Ohhhhhhhh, not condoms” hit me. Like I said, I’m a slow dolt;)

    Good luck on finding the right one. I finally gave up and bought an el-cheapo one for $9 two weekends ago. I hate it too. It makes me feel like I’m sitting uneven.

  2. The Fabulous Kitty Glendower permalink
    December 9, 2008 5:22 pm

    Oh the drama in the search is just too much for me. I will pass on the wish of luck though.

  3. MargaretJamison permalink
    December 9, 2008 7:22 pm

    And, of course, because so much of women’s fashion is designed, not with functionality in mind, but with “flattering” the body, there aren’t pockets big enough in most women’s clothing to hold a wallet (let alone feminine hygiene products). So, for most women a purse isn’t exactly an option.

    I’m also annoyed because the purse is then counted as a “carry-on” bag during air travel, so that women must part with their money, credit cards, and health insurance cards in order to place their purses in overhead compartments or underneath seats. Why women aren’t allowed to sit with their purses next to them on the seat when flying, when men aren’t required to sit their wallets on the floor/in overhead compartments, is something I’ll never know.

    That’s all rather off-topic, but there you go.

  4. The Fabulous Kitty Glendower permalink
    December 9, 2008 7:39 pm

    Don’t forget all the must have things that you must have to go in that purse.

    Or the hilarious trope about the woman with bricks in her purse that are used to hit some unsuspecting pervert.

    You know, it is just an additional thing to carry, almost like an intentional reason to keep women burdened, off balance. What is more hindering than carrying a purse and wearing high heels at the same time?

    Then there are people who make a big deal if you show up somewhere without a purse.

  5. Professor Zero permalink
    December 11, 2008 4:21 am

    This is one for your book – you know, that collection of essays and stories based on blog posts you’re going to publish.

  6. The Fabulous Kitty Glendower permalink
    December 14, 2008 7:03 am

    I do need to get started on something. Will you be my editor?

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